Rules, which can keep us stuck, are usually hidden.
The well practiced automatic reactions (like standing down, shutting down, avoidance or running away) are not.
For example, years ago, my rule of engagement when it came to fire was to not touch it!
(Either I had effective parenting or I figured this out the painful way!)
But if I wired into my brain that keeping "a safe" distance from fire felt better than touching fire, then that became my personal rule of engagement.
(Engagement rule: fires to watch or cook with, but don't touch or jump into burning logs!
(A rule of engagement I liked even better and tried to deploy was ... get someone else to make the fire or do the cooking! LOL)
Where am I going with this?
There came a time in my life when I realized not being able to get myself to engage in walking through situations that caused me fear was holding me back in life.
It was even causing me to make the wrong decisions in my life.
(This forced me to become an EXPERT at CREATIVE excuses and "stories.")
And it wasn't always things I feared. Sometimes it was just things I didn't WANT to do;
You know, not starting a project because my rule of engagement was I had to first feel motivated or inspired.
(THAT rule of engagement has long since been replaced with "deploy discipline.")
And by the way, don't we have rules of engagement for riding our horses like "I don't use spurs or crops to engage a horse to move forward?" (Fear of going too fast.)
And don't our horses have rules of engagement for us to ride them? ("I will ONLY engage in stopping at the obstacle if you jump up on my neck before take off to the jump!")
This last one speaks to the importance of the TIMING of our rules of engagement. (The culprit for procrastination!)
Back to fears:
So the obvious answer to getting myself to face my fears was ... wait for it ... desensitize myself to anything that caused me fear.
In fact, I changed my personal rule of engagement to purposely seeking out difficult and scary people and events to JUMP into!
I actually learned how to embrace them instead of allowing those people or situations to control me with my fear. (Becoming a victim of fear.)
In other words, my new identity was that of being a first responder; someone who ran INTO the fire!
Thus, I ended up firewalking at the Tony Robbins event.
This was a breakthrough for me ... learning how to embrace and condition my brain to DO IT ANYWAY!
To automatically say YES, loudly, no matter what was put in front of me.
(As different from being negative about or demonizing people, places, and things.)
I can't tell you how POWERFUL I felt being able to master MYSELF!
Note, that to walk across fire required (not necessarily in this order);
1. Change my excuses for not doing it.
2. Change my beliefs about not being able to do that.
3. Change my personal rules of engagement! Which included ... NOT allowing others to do for me what I should be doing for myself!
My new rule of engagement was not just about walking on fire.
The new rule of engagement was a new GLOBAL rule for my life which became;
"Whatever you fear or don't like, walk TOWARDS it to embrace it, and enjoy the empowered feeling of overcoming your fear or patterns!"
As humans, we have filed away in our brains, lots of "rules" that keep us safe.
Or moving forward.
Problem is, some our rules are keeping us lazy, stuck or worse, causing us to make decisions that are not in our best interest.
The decision based upon the wrong rules of engagement itself is flawed and reeks of fear or weakness!
And lack of discipline. Or the tools to rein in our control issues!
My favorite quote: "We are either pitiful or powerful, but we can't be both!" Dr. Joyce Meyers
Examples of Rules of Engagement;
Fear of public speaking may have wired into our brains a rule that we don't speak in public.
(But how many opportunities have we turned down to keep "safe" from that encounter?)
When I have a client with this issue, their RX is to join Toastmasters or to take GROUP acting lessons.
Or for riders, we may have a fear of trying new horses, jumping a new height or going to a new show resulting in a rule for a lack of engagement.
Or saying no.
Or having "that difficult" conversation with our trainers.
(You know, the one where you express what you don't like about their barn or their training.)
Or maybe that you intend to pull your horses out and leave.
For some riders, this conversation could take WAY too many months (of you being unhappy there) or years.
Or the conversation may never happen AT ALL!
When I work with Junior riders, building the "talking to my trainer" engagement muscle is a key component of the program!
Why? Most of them fear their trainers and/or they see it as a scary confrontation.
Or they just don't want to FEEL the defeat of not being able to "win" the debate or get their objectives met. In other words, they hate for someone to disagree with them or to hear the word, "No."
OOOOHHHHH! So they WILL engage in a conversation, BUT ONLY IF it goes the way they want it to go!
So the "trip wire" of some rules of engagement ... controlling how OTHERS engage back with us!
And if it doesn't go EXACTLY according to our script?
The rule of engagement, if we are triggered, is to rear up, buck or run away!
I have a trainer I work with who had a thriving business with her spouse.
She had already untangled the legal marital status, but she wanted to leave the barn she was leasing from him.
She was afraid to make the move, but even as she overcame that and found a new barn and business partner, she stalled out in a rabbit hole; afraid to "have the conversation" with him.
And that is the stuck place where she landed.
She justified this, of course, with excuses like, "Well, I had agreed to lease there when we got divorced, and we share several kids. It is probably the right thing to do to keep my agreement and just stay on his property so our kids don't have far to go to see both of us every day."
(Mind you, she was fearless when she came to training horses to jump the 1.50 meter jumping class!)
Why was she afraid to do that next move with her ex-spouse?
"I don't like confrontations."
How did this fear affect her business? Was she able to be an effective leader for her 30 clients?
Could she have those necessary "confrontations" with those clients or staff that needed it?
This was why she was still there at the barn YEARS after she wanted to leave!
Her rule for engagement was that it was OK to procrastinate or just stand down and "quit" altogether from situations she didn't like!
This was why she was stressed out with clients who were not a good fit for her program and yet, they were still there at the barn!
She had a long list of rules of engagement, and one of those rules was:
Avoid confrontation. (Global rule)
Her belief was that confrontations were stressful, she was not "good" at confrontation, and it would somehow hurt her.
(She also held the belief that problems would just magically resolve themselves.)
So that was how she created her rule of engagement for NOT engaging in what was simply an uncertain or uncomfortable conversation.
(Uncomfortable also meaning "things not going the way she wants them to.")
How do we get around this POWERFUL rule that keeps us stuck in life where we are unhappy?
(That's the problem with rules of engagement. Some rules will help us to win the war and some rules (like wait until the enemy shoots first) will keep us from engaging with the problem in a proactive way where we CAN win the war!)
1. Change the word. It was just a conversation. This deflates the emotional impact of the word confrontation which had the previous meaning of:
A hostile or argumentative meeting or situation between opposing parties. The other meanings she gave to it was a conflict, a fight or a battle.
She was more focused on the negative feelings she MIGHT have rather than the empowered feeling she WOULD generate from accomplishing her mission and overcoming her fears!
What about just calling it an encounter or a contest (whose argument is going to win ... make it fun)?
Or just a "brush" with someone that disagrees with you?
If we elevate the words up even more, we COULD choose to label the conversation as an OPPORTUNITY to achieve our goal or mission.
With a person that sees things through a different pair of glasses.
Engage anyway! If nothing else, to feel good about standing up for ourselves and to be heard! To break a pattern of avoidance and throwing up walls.
Get on the YES bridle path!
This is what my trainer ended up doing; rewiring her brain for "conversations" and new, risky events to become exciting possibilities for opportunities.
Now she jumps in with a "solve the problem" mindset, and opens up all kinds of doors! Even ones she never dreamed of are opening up for her.
"Nancy, I'm going all over Europe this summer to do FEI shows! Showing my client's horses in Europe was never even ON my bucket list! I never even dreamed this could actually happen!"
This happened why? Because her GLOBAL rule of engagement had flipped 180 degrees!
She made herself open to opportunities by GETTING EXCITED ABOUT THE POSSIBILITIES of what could happen if she stayed focused on, and committed to, the YES gear!
And then she worked on staying on that mindset bridle path and fought like a warrior when the old negatives thoughts and concerns tried to creep back in to sabotage her.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
What you are global rules and what are your rules for specific people and events?
If you adopted those less emotionally impactful words and meanings, then your rules of engagement might automatically change as well!
After all, having a conversation, or "quick chat", is just that! It is up to us to not be negative about them.
To not demonize them OR THE PERSON!
(As Tony Robbins would say, "See it as it is, not worse than it is."
Now, if you FEAR the conversation will "get ugly" (trigger you), then go in with certainty by putting on your armor and change your rules of engagement!
2). Lead with your identity! If you are from a military background, you might actually lead with that identity of being a warrior and being good at combat! In fact, you could get your need met for fulling significance, growth, and power by stepping up and jumping into the fight!
After all, that is who you are. That is who you have been trained to be! Stay focused on the outcome that you want.
(Note that if the military is not your background, you can still adopt and utilize that powerful identity! Most of my clients have had to LEARN how to find and embrace their inner warrior! Especially those who want to go into the ring and win!)
All athletes have to deploy a fight mentality to win!
3) Change your rules of engagement! Regardless of the words you use to transform the experience, sometimes (like my fire walking) you just have to change your rules and then say "Halt!' every time you want to shut down or run away! Then change your lead and focus on something else.
And if you do temporarily go into your bad patterns of shut down or retreat, it is just like becoming unseated from your horse. The answer is ALWAYS to quickly get back on and just stay calm and keep riding through it! Practice, practice, practice.
Desensitize and build your courage and "pattern breaking" muscle!
4) Learn better communication skills. How about adding to your NEW rockstar identity that you are a champion debater?
What if you purposefully practiced lesser impactful "confrontations" with family/friends/acquaintances or sign up for learning how to debate so that you could desensitize your emotional nervous system and then actually become an expert at "having those conversations?"
My juniors that are learning how to "have EFFECTIVE conversations" with their trainers (and parents) start with creating a script!
It is all about being prepared and acting as if until we become!
My business entrepreneurs are learning how to have effective negotiating rules. Then we role play!
My rider's parents are learning how to say NO to their children, setting boundaries, and crafting effective consequences that are changing dysfunctional behaviors.
And my trainers are learning how to effectively deal with their drama queens in their barn before that toxic virus spreads.
The point is: what is the mission and then what is your intention?
If it is not just to show up in your camo uniform and LOOK LIKE a soldier going to battle, but the intention is to actually accomplish a goal and to win ... to always be able to quickly adjust and make the moves forward no matter what obstacles are put on your path in front of you ...
Then, change your beliefs about your ability to take that action, change your excuses to justify being triggered, wimping out, backing down, and quitting, and change your rules of engagement so you CAN take that action.
DO It ANYWAY. Say yes and make it a great week! Choose to step up and stay strong!
Breakthrough Mental Skills Coach
Emotional Strength & Resilience Trainer